|Dana snaps a photo of her Dinner Party guests. Photos by Tina Craig.|
Yearning for more than small talk, Dana devised a simple but dynamic way to connect people. "I would see people out a lot, but I thought, 'I don't know them that well. I don't know their stories or where they grew up or much of anything.' I also know that a lot of people don't know each other." So, she gathered a list of names, put them in a hat, and pulled seven at random to join her for drinks and dinner in her home. And so, the Dinner Party Project was born.
Today, the process remains the same, but her reach has exploded. Dana and her team—now sometimes including a guest host and a guest chef—bring to life about 10 dinners a month. The menu includes a welcome cocktail and hors d'oeuvre, a main course, and dessert. The host also prepares a few questions to move the conversation along. These questions are often meant to catch guests off guard, and before long people are talking about things they never imagined they would share with strangers, from heartfelt personal triumphs to laugh-'til-you-cry moments we'd rather forget but tell anyway.
Why has it been so successful? "All the new people! They give life to this thing. No two dinners are exactly the same because each time you come, you sit down with seven different people, probably in a different location, with a different chef, and probably a different host." The mix of people at these private dinners is often surprising: Your table might include a marketing student who recently arrived in Orlando, a well-known local developer, a doctor who also plays in a band, a yoga instructor, or the owner of a major league sports team.
Pre-DPP, Dana's ventures included Other Peoples Property and its much-loved signature event, the OPP Swap & Shop. While Stylist-turned-Dinner-Party-Hostess might not be the most common job title, the worlds of style and entertainment have many similarities. "I love aesthetics," says Dana. "I love creating a vision and executing it. I love gathering different friends and talented people and doing something new and beautiful."
No matter what the venture, her top priority is making connections with people and watching them engage with her projects. A close second priority is managing the execution of her events. "It's just about staying on top of the moving parts. With the dinners, it's the ongoing details: different guest chefs, guest hosts, and locations."
Since her very first Dinner Party Project in August of 2014, Dana's dream of hosting dinner parties for a living has grown from a word-of-mouth, Instagram-driven secret to a city-wide venture in which she builds connections throughout the community. With a proverbial hat holding over 750 names and a successful pilot dinner in Nashville under her belt, now is the perfect time to add your name to the list.